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Viper in the shop, Kunsan Air Base (AB), Republic of Korea,

Viper in the shop, Kunsan Air Base (AB), Republic of Korea,

Iraq Seeks F-16 Fighters

Murdoc calls this a bad idea:

The Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the U.S., say American military officials familiar with the request, a move that could help reduce its reliance on U.S. air power and potentially allow more American forces to withdraw from the country than had been proposed.

The Iraqi air force is just, pardon the pun, barely off the ground. Turboprop attack aircraft are the way to go. Honestly, Iraq would be better served by something along the lines of the Super Tucano or the Beechcraft AT-6 COIN. (For the record, I think planes like this have a place in the USAF. If they don’t want it, I say let the US Army buy some.) These lightweights can do the job the Iraqis need to do.

The Iraqi military has come a long way. You’ll notice that no one seems to be arguing that it was a bad idea to disband Saddam’s army any more. They’re upgrading their equipment, first to newer models of the Soviet weaponry and now to US gear like M16 rifles and M1 tanks. Artillery has been slow in coming, as has air power. Both of these will be required to be in place before Iraq can be counted on to take over the whole anti-insurgency load, and both will have to be fully capable before Iraq can be counted on to deter its neighbors from invading.

That sword, of course, cuts both ways. Regardless of how proficient their ground troops become, they are dependent upon US military power to keep the stability and they know it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’d do well to wait a few election cycles before getting too excited about making Iraq a first-rate power. We’ve still got about two decades to go before we know if it’s working or not.

I think Iraq is right to want some ground attack aircraft. I think we’d be right to sell them some. But I don’t think the time is right for Iraqi F-16s.

UPDATE: Noah Schachtman weighs in on this issue.


  1. You are making a timeline error.

    It takes 2-3 years for the aircraft to be approved, bought, built, delivered, and then pilots conversion trained.

    The IZAF plans to train 80 fixed-wing pilots per year.

    That means they will have 80 ready for jet conversion training by the time those aircraft are actually delivered in 2010/11…

  2. DJ: Actually, I mean for this process to not begin for a few years. As in, Iraq has no operational front line jet fighters until 2015ish.

    Begin a turboprop COIN timeline today. Yesterday, in fact.

  3. Yeah it’s all in the mission, isn’t it?

    I mean, if the need is for a CAS platform, and the need is immediate, it seems the helicopters that they’re already buying would do the trick. Spads will similarly fit the bill, if not next week or next month, then certainly much faster than a sophisticated jet.

    Leave the air superiority question for the next generation.

  4. They do kind of live in a bad neighborhood and if BO is elected, Uncle Sam may not be around to help. Georgia is a good example of what happens to even a well-trained army against an enemy with air superiority.

  5. Bram: Well, that’s a good point. I wonder if the Iraqis are thinking that they should get these things rolling ASAP in case Obama wins it in November.

  6. Bram, good point, have to look at the external security at this point, as well. Can we fire up the a-10 prodution line too? Hey, it’s all income for factory workers here at home. You want strike capability, there it is, in spades.

  7. Personally, the process of rebuilding the Iraqi Military strikes parallels, even if very thin parallel, of our rebuilding of the nations we’ve conquered. Although Japan is a bit weird…

  8. 36 F-16’s with good pilots and training, would enable Iraq to have a credible air defense vs Iran. For counter insurgency operations, Reapers are the way to go.

  9. OK, so maybe this is nit picky, but why do they always call them “advanced” jet fighters?

    An F-22 is advanced. An F-18 Super Hornet, maybe. But an F-16? It’s a 30+ year old jet.

  10. Part of me says no, since I think they are trying to literally fly before they can metaphorically walk. They have a lot of more pressing issues locally, and I doubt they think even Obama is going to let Iran invade. The no fly zone was in place though three different presidents. If they wanted some protection they could try to get a UN resolution passed, though we all know what those are worth. I just think there is a lot of corruption, and broken services that they could probably spend that money on first.

    But then, we don’t really have any say what they spend their oil money on anymore, so that’s moot. If we don’t sell them what they want, they’ll get it from the Europeans or much worse, the Russians. We might as well do it and get some of our gas money back, with the necessary precautions against selling them the highest tech gear and avionics. No one wants to see another Shaw/F-14 mess, but I’m sure that if things were to go down that path, they’d probably find themselves with a bunch of useless aircraft too, not too long after the US maintenance personnel ditched the country.

  11. The US does not have a good reputation in that regard. We have thrown allies to the wolves before.

    The Iraqi MoD has started the purchases for external defense. That is what this is. And 36 is just a start. I expect they are looking at 36/year for five years so that they can have 10 squadrons operational in 7-8 years.

    Also, I bet that half of this order will be trainers…

  12. Here’s a thought.

    Maybe Blackwater could raise a couple billion to buy the F-16s, hire some ex USAF pilots, and contract out the air support services to Iraq.

    Seems like a logical extension of their current business model to me.

    But then again, maybe the Friday evening gin and tonics are finally kicking in…..

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